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A winning formula

The infant formula market is of huge importance to the Irish dairy industry. Maintaining our excellent reputation is key to the economy, and this includes responding to increased chlorate residue levels in milk, which has health concerns for infants. Teagasc has been key to establishing world-class testing facilities in Ireland.

Teagasc Principal Research Officer Martin Danaher at work in the laboratory

Teagasc Principal Research Officer Martin Danaher at work in the laboratory

International markets have set high standards for milk and dairy product quality, including stringent guidelines for residue concentrations. The presence of chlorate and perchlorate residues arising from chlorine-based disinfectants – used to clean milking machines and bulk tanks in processing plants – has attracted increasing attention in recent years.

These residues are competitive inhibitors of iodine uptake in the thyroid, and present a potential health concern for vulnerable groups, particularly infants in their consumption of infant formula. Given how lucrative this market is for Irish milk producers – annual exports are €1 billion from six global infant formula manufacturers based here – any concerns with respect to chlorate residues in milk or dairy ingredients could be detrimental to Ireland’s exports and dairy industry reputation.

In 2016, following urgent requests from the Irish dairy industry to develop a rapid, sensitive chlorates test for milk and dairy ingredients, a novel proprietary high-throughput test was validated at Teagasc’s Dublin laboratories, receiving ISO17025 certification a year later. 

Technology transfer insight

Up to June 2020, Teagasc was the sole Irish provider of accredited chlorate testing for milk samples. Exponential growth in demand provided an opportunity for Teagasc to transfer its technology and related expertise to commercial labs (for service provision to clients) and milk processors (for internal testing).

The reputation of Teagasc’s analytical test development, accredited residue testing and personnel expertise, as well as support through its Technology Transfer Office (TTO), was key to ensuring successful industry engagement, allowing companies to promptly establish dedicated laboratories and begin testing with confidence.

Following the licensing of Teagasc proprietary standard operating procedures (SOPs) to the companies, Teagasc supported the establishment of the industry partners’ new analytical laboratories – including operation, design, layout, services, equipment and staffing – through consultancy. Bespoke training was provided on the equipment, test methods and data analysis, and guidance was given around troubleshooting and quality control.

Support to industry partners

As part of this collaborative and technology transfer process, Teagasc has partnered with Independent Milk Laboratories (IML), which offers commercial services to analyse milk constituents; FBA Laboratories, which provides analytical services to agribusiness, farmers and veterinary practitioners; and Kerry Group, which provides technology-based taste and nutrition solutions for food, beverage and pharmaceutical markets, including infant formula.

Since 2020, the licensing of know-how and provision of critical consultancy in relation to specialist testing for chlorate residues has had significant impact for all partners and the wider Irish dairy industry.

Teagasc’s TTO has supported researchers in the capture of proprietary SOPs as novel IP and in licensing negotiations and subsequent consultancy. It has continued to help the researchers and partner companies to determine outcomes and impacts.

Siobhan Jordan, Head of Technology Transfer and Commercialisation within the TTO, reflects: “The project has enhanced the reputation of Teagasc at home and abroad in being able to support industry and in particular that wider agrifood sector for Ireland.

“Equally, there is further engagement happening between the researchers and industry. We hope that will lead to new research collaborations and other sources of revenue both for Teagasc and the industry partners.”

This combined licensing-consultancy route to commercialisation sets an excellent precedent to develop specialised analytical tests for Irish food processors, which once proven can then be successfully commercialised by industry.

Teagasc’s collaboration with partners to test chlorate residue levels won the Industry Engagement Award at the 2022 Knowledge Transfer Ireland Impact Awards

Teagasc’s collaboration with partners to test chlorate residue levels won the Industry Engagement Award at the 2022 Knowledge Transfer Ireland Impact Awards

Significant impact

In addition to job creation and significant increases in revenues and profits, investment into new chromatography infrastructure at the two commercial labs has given FBA Labs and IML scope to expand further through new methods and testing capabilities in this field.

The increased availability of sensitive testing in Ireland has the potential to speed up the response from local dairy processors and their milk suppliers to chlorate residue concerns; this includes prompt identification of chlorate-contaminated milk before further processing, reducing waste and more costly contamination of infant formula. Managing such concerns confidently and quickly is key to maintaining Irish dairy’s excellent reputation, especially in the infant formula space, while ensuring safety for consumers – and Teagasc consultancy has been paramount in achieving this.

Such significant impact was celebrated at the 2022 Knowledge Transfer Ireland Impact Awards, where this success story won the Industry Engagement Award. This was a significant achievement given the prestige of these awards and stiff competition from two leading Irish universities also shortlisted.

Miriam Walsh, Head of Intellectual Property within the TTO, reflects: “Winning this prestigious award was a huge bonus for all concerned, and all the more valued given its impact was benchmarked against impressive success stories from university peers in Ireland and involving an international judging panel.” 

'Teagasc consultancy has exceeded our expectations’

All three industry partners have emphasised the value of Teagasc’s expertise and reputation. 

Conor Butler, General Manager, FBA Laboratories

Teagasc’s consultancy was critical to the establishment of our new laboratory. Martin [Danaher, Teagasc Food Research Centre]’s knowledge, enthusiasm and attention to detail was an enormous help to us in setting up the method – and we greatly value his words of wisdom and advice. Without such support, it would have been much more difficult for us to set up, and any delays during this period would, I believe, have prevented us expanding in the chromatography area. This work has been of real value in allowing us into new areas and to make new contacts that will further develop our laboratory.

Robert Burns, General Manager, Independent Milk Laboratory

The research from Teagasc has exceeded our expectations in terms of what it can deliver for us and the industry. We were able to set up the laboratory and offer a test commercially within a couple of months, which we just wouldn’t have been able to do if we’d had to go it alone. Development of the commercial test method took years within Teagasc, so if industry had to start from scratch, we wouldn’t have been able to implement that as quickly, and we wouldn’t have met the deadline for the legislation.

James O Connell, General Manager, Kerry Agribusiness, a division of Kerry Group

Partnering with Teagasc allowed us to develop the technical capacity of our laboratory in the area of liquid chromatography and mass spectroscopy (LC-MS) in a focused and assured manner. The partnership removed any trial and error phase in the selection of equipment and consumables and, most importantly, the selection and application of test methods. The training and technical support provided by Teagasc, and Martin Danaher in particular, was second to none. Kerry Agribusiness Laboratory management and staff received a rounded education on LC-MS and chlorate analysis and are moving towards further developing our LC-MS analytical capability with Teagasc’s guidance.


Miriam Walsh, Head of Intellectual Property, Teagasc Technology Transfer Office, Teagasc HQ, Oak Park.
Siobhan Jordan, Head of Technology Transfer and Commercialisation, Teagasc Technology Transfer Office, Teagasc HQ, Oak Park.
Martin Danaher, Principal Research Officer, Food Safety Department, Teagasc Food Research Centre, Ashtown.